The German Pioneers

Address by Bernard Peters of Brooklyn, N.Y. at
Marietta, Ohio.
Centennial Celebration, 1888

"Ladies and Gentlemen: By the committee who have had the arrangements for these centennial exercises in charge, I have been requested to speak on this occasion of the German pioneers who settled in this country during the first half of the present century. The Governor of Ohio, who has just introduced me as a native of this city, must stand corrected in this particular. I am not a native of this city, nor of this state, but a native of Germany. I was brought here by my parents, into this county and city, at so early an age that, living among the New England settlers of Marietta from youth to manhood, they made me over into quite as much of a Yankee as though I had been born on the soil of Massachusetts.

According to my understanding of the matter, the first German settlers of Washington County came from the Rhein Palatinate. They came to the United States in the summer of 1833, from the vicinity of Durkheim. a little city of some 6000 inhabitants, located in the gap of the valley of Isenach, a small stream flowing through the Hardt mountains, and distant due west, from Heidelberg about twenty miles. [Note: The town of Bad Durkheim is in the lsenach valley (Isenachtal) west of Ludwigshafen. It is one of the towns on the famous German Wine Road, the Deutsche Weinstrass.] This is indeed an interesting region. Lord Thomas Babington Macauly, years ago, while standing on the Geisberg eminence, a spur of the Black Forest just south of Heidelberg, and from which vantage he surveyed this beautiful and interesting landscape, pronounced it �the garden of Europe�.

The pioneers to whom this address will be chiefly devoted were two brothers, sons of Jon Peters and his wife Barbara ,nee Wagner, who had reared a family of seven sons, and whose ancestors, from time immemorial, had lived and died in this section of Germany. The names of the pioneers were James and Charles Frederick. I ought, perhaps, to explain that Peters is an Anglicized form of the name. In Germany, it is Peter. In this country, as in England, the name invariably takes on the letter �s�. My father�s name was John Philip Peters, and he was the youngest of the seven brothers. He followed the pioneers to this country in 1834.

The emigration of the Peters brothers to the United States was brought about in this wise. In 1832, there arose in the Palatinate and through the southern section of Germany a somewhat famous commotion among the peasantry, by which a demand was made of the then ruling authorities for a longer measure of liberty for the people. It was doubtless a preliminary symptom of the greater commotion that took place sixteen years later, in 1848, and which led to an actual and somewhat remarkable outbreak, but which was crushed with a relentless hand by Emperor William, recently deceased, who as Crown Prince made himself famous as a soldier by the energy and skill with which he made an end of the movement of �48. That insurrection furnished the inspiring cause for emigration to the United States to Carl Schurz and General Franz Siegel - the latter of whom distinguished himself in our Civil War in the military service of this country, while the former became famous, somewhat in the war, but more particularly in the civil service of the country - first in the United States Senate, afterwards as a cabinet officer during the administration of President Hayes.

The revolt of �32, if it can be dignified by that name, was led by two professors and many of the students of Heidelberg, and for a short time it is said to have had an immense popular following. The professors in question were Wirt and Siebenfleffer. The denouement took place sometime in the summer of �32, and came to a culmination at a popular gathering assembled at Homberg auf der Hoe, since then a noted watering place. At this gathering, Wirt the more popular and more eloquent of the two professors, made a speech in favor of popular rights, in which, in scathing and fitting terms of rebuke, he denounced the tyranny of tue government. At the conclusion of his speech, by a committee either of the students or of the citizens present, he was presented with a magnificent sword. This was ominous and its significance could not be mistaken, and as the result, either at once, or soon thereafter, the offending professors were apprehended and thrown into prison, and the threatened revolt was summarily promptly nipped in the bud. The imprisonment was of short duration. The professors were never brought to trial as they soon escaped from prison, The popular impression was that the escape was connived at by the authorities in order to get rid of two popular prisoners, and to avoid the onus of their conviction and the sympathy which their execution surely would have evoked for them and their cause from one end of Germany to the other. The Peters brothers, who subsequently became the pioneers of Washington County, were constituent parts of that great Homburg Assembly. They fully sympathized with the spirit of the occasion, and being animated by the desire for larger liberty, which actuated the German masses at that time, and which the gathering in question represented, they were overwhelmed with chagrin and disappointment when the leaders of this movement were apprehended and imprisoned, and when the hopes that inspired their countrymen were thus promptly suppressed. As the quite natural results they, as did thousands of others of their countrymen, lost hope of ever seeing a better day for Germany.

Naturally, and has been the case in every kindred event in Europe from that day to this, they instinctively turned their thoughts toward the new world and to the then recently established Republic of America, where, nearly a half century before, the people had secured their independence and had succeeded in forming and placing on a firm foundation one of the most beneficent governments hitherto known in the history of the world. The younger of the Peters pioneers, Charles Frederick, left his native land in the spring of �33, a year after the gathering at Homburg. His brother, Jacob, followed a few weeks later. The third brother, Philip, followed in the summer of �34. All of the brothers, and the families who accompanied them, took shipping at Havre de Grace, in France, at that time the important port of embarkation for all south German emigrants. The first brothers, Charles and Jacob, shipped in vessels that sailed for Baltimore. From Baltimore, Charles Frederick with his family, made an overland journey through the Cumberland valley and on the National Pike to Wheeling, Virginia. This national highway, constructed chiefly through the influence of Henry Clay, was then in it�s glory, and was to that age quite as great a boon and quite as marvelous a wonder as were at a later period the transcontinental railways that now link the Atlantic coasts to the Golden Gate. Charles Frederick left his family for a time at Wheeling, and proceeded down the Ohio River as fir as Cincinnati on a prospecting tour. The present Queen City of the West was then little more than a good sized village.

During the summer of �32 sickness had extensively prevailed throughout the Ohio Valley. Especially was this true of Cincinnati. The effects of the ravages of the cholera of 1832 were everywhere visible, and the inhabitants all more or less betrayed the signs of the work of this fell destroyer. In fact, the summer of 1833, when this visit took place, was not yet free from the seeds of the contagion that prevailed the year before. In addition to this, the heat of �33 is said to have been almost unendurable. Under these circumstances, the visit to Cincinnati was discouraging, and Charles Peters soon returned to his family in Wheeling, where he found his brother Jacob and one or two other families who had crossed the ocean with Jacob, and who had followed Charles to Wheeling. Among those in this company, my impression is, were Theobald Seyler and Daniel Zimmer, with their families.

The Peters brothers now resolved to start on a new prospecting tour to find a place for settlement. They left their families at Wheeling with the newcomers and started on foot down the Ohio River. They proceeded on the Virginia side as far down as Benwood. There they crossed the river to what is now Bellaire, and proceeded down the Ohio side, continuing, probably a five or six days journey to Marietta. During this journey, they found not a single family, not a single person, WI am correctly informed, that could speak a word of German. Luckily, the elder of the two brothers had spent some time in England and acquired some little knowledge of the English language. He was thus able in a limited way to make their wants known.

When they reached Marietta they put up at the John Brophy hostelry, the famous hotel of the early days of Marietta. The wife of Brophy was a French woman, born on the borders of Germany, and therefore spoke fluently not only the French and English, but the German as well. Mrs. Brophy was a shrewd and thrifty business woman of the period, and it was she who persuaded the brothers to locate in this county. Charles proceeded to Salem Township, and purchased a farm on Duck Creek, in the neighborhood of the Lancasters. This some years later he sold to Jacob Lauer, and removed to Marietta. He resided here until 1839. He then sold what possessions he had and moved to West Point, Iowa, where he lived until he reached the advanced age of 86. His brother Jacob went out some six miles to Fearing Township and purchased a farm on the hills about a mile from Duck Creek, where he resided for some years. He subsequently sold this place and removed to Watertown Township, becoming the first German settler in the Deming-Wolcott settlement. There he resided until he reached the advanced age of eighty eight, when he was gathered to his fathers. His son, Charles Frederick, now in his seventy first year, and who is present at this assembly, still lives upon this old homestead. He was sixteen years of age when his father moved into Washington County, and it is to him I am chiefly indebted for those facts that are beyond my personal knowledge.

In June of 1834, Conrad Bohl, of Wachenheim, also in the Rhein Palatinate, came into this country. For a time he owned a farm near Bonn, but a few years later sold his interest and followed Jacob Peters to Watertown, where, some years later his brother Nicholas came. These were the German pioneers in that section of the county. Still later, these were followed to Watertown by Louis Cutter, the father of Judge F.F. Cutter, now a resident of Marietta, and by Carl Wagner, an uncle on the mother�s side of the Carter family.

John Philip Peters, Conrad Bissanz (Anglicized, at least in pronunciation, as Bissant), and Bernard Wagner came in 1834. Bernard Wagner bought a farm seven miles from here on Duck Creek. He lived but a few months. Contracting a fever, he died suddenly in the winter of "35. The widow, left in a helpless condition, with two children and no one to care for the farm, had the sympathy of the vicinage, and some months later married Christian Schimmel, a most conscientious and industrious man, who lived on the farm for a generation or more. In fact, till his death, leaving the wife a widow for the second time, but by this time with children of advanced years and in circumstances that enable her in old age to live in peace and comfort. She is living in this city with one of her sons, patiently waiting her release from earthly bonds and trials. Conrad Bissanz bought a homestead a mile nearer Marietta in Fearing Township, in the Chapman neighborhood, just beyond Stanleyville, where he lived and prospered for a full generation. He subsequently sold and removed to Marietta, where he died at an advanced age.

At an early period, Valentine and Jacob Spies, two brothers, came into this county and settled on adjoining firms on the banks of the Muskingum, just below Lowell. For some years the home of one of the Spies was quite a center for social and festive gatherings of the Germans then residing in the county. The occasions are memorable because they were the first festive gatherings among the Germans in this county of which I have any recollection. After the Peters brothers had bought their firms and had their deeds on record, they left for Wheeling to bring their families to their new homes. While absent on this trip, Rev. Theodore Schriener and one or two other German families came to Marietta. Schriener married a daughter of Squire Joel Tuttle, and organized the first German Church in this county, of which he remained pastor for nearly a score of years. He was a very affable man and made himself exceedingly useful to the early German settlers. Of the first settlers in Fearing Township, the following names have been furnished to me by Mr. Christian Best:

  • Theobald Seyler, Christian Scherber, John Schneider, John H. Best, G.C.Best, and Christian Newschafer.

The date of their arrival here is fixed as 1833. To these I may add the following names: John and Henry Smith. The first was the founder of the hardware store of Rodick Brothers. The other was a carriage builder, who is yet living. There were also Jacob and Michael Giddle. The first was wharfmaster for the Halls, Willis and Ely, for years when steam boating on the Ohio River meant something.

I may also mention Jacob Thies, the shoemaker, John and Louis Leonhardt; the Cislers, who have grown to be an important and prosperous family among you. I might here refer also to the able, eloquent and eccentric Dr. Ceolena, who was the first pastor of the first German church in Marietta, and who, to the work of preaching, joined the business of practicing medicine, and who for a year or two made a great sensation and gained the good will of some of our best citizens, among them the family of the historian, Dr. S.P. Hildreath, a man of mark in those days. There were two others who deserve mention in this connection. These were Oliver Nelson and Henry Hartwig. They spoke German, one of them (Nelson) quite fluently, but they were Danes and not Germans. Hartwig was a blacksmith; Nelson was a carriage builder. Nelson married the eldest daughter of Conrad Bohl of Watertown. The Hartwig family, after residing here many years, removed elsewhere.

It is also claimed, on what authority I cannot say, that one Casper Schmitz and another German, Casper Schaechtelein by name, came to this county in 1817. As far as my knowledge goes, they left no descendants, and perchance may have made this county only a temporary home, removing subsequently into some other locality. I am sure that very early there were Germans in this county who came from Pennsylvania, but were natives of that state, speaking the Pennsylvania Dutch, and were not therefore, German settlers directly from the Fatherland.

Others, perhaps, deserve to be mentioned in this connection; but as I have resided away from Marietta and have only paid an occasional visit here for the period of more than a generation, I think this will suffice.

In conclusion, pardon me for saying this, for truth and justice demand it: The Germans who came here early were men of thrift. They have shorn your hilltops of their wild native forests; they have converted your country into a land of plenty. They have materially helped to advance among you the march of civilization, and by their ready assimilation with those who preceded them to this Northwest Territory from New England, they have helped to build a state that ranks among the honored states of this union. I think I may safely and properly add that these Germans as a class have always appreciated the blessings of this free government, and have in a practical way demonstrated the fact that they have understood the importance of having all safe and good government founded on law and order, on religion and education.

These Germans - these early Germans - knew nothing of what is now disturbing this and other governments, under the form of socialism and anarchy. They did not forget the lessons of duty and obligation that bound them to employers, and clamor for tights without qualification. They were indeed grateful to those who gave them a chance to earn an honest living, and they were ready early and late to do an honest days work for an honest days pay. The liberty they came to find, and finding which they were happy and content, was the liberty that is conditioned on law, on order, on good government - in a word, the liberty that gave them a fair and equal chance in the race of life. Thousands of them, under these inspirations, have become men of prosperity, have made their mark in church and state - thus becoming worthy co-workers with that patriotic and sturdy Christian stock that came here from New England, and that planted an infant colony on this spot one hundred years ago this day, and here illustrated the wisdom of founding the state on the church and the school house, and thus giving to their descendants a true and abiding Christian civilization."

The Bernard Peters address is part of Glen A. Mindling's [my father] personal papers.

George Mindling, Port Charlotte, FL
August, 2009

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